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2-time WPIAL spirit champion Pine-Richland turns attention to state competition

| Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

After winning the Class AAA title at the inaugural WPIAL competitive spirit championships a year ago, the target was certainly on the backs of the Pine-Richland Rams at this year's event.

Yet, the Rams were able to repeat as Class AAA champions on Saturday in North Hills Middle School, with an event-leading 257.5 points.

“The pressure was on us after (winning) the first time, so I was so proud of them for what they did,” Pine-Richland coach Danielle Hitson said. “They were focused, they knew what they had to do, and they definitely did it.”

The Rams advanced to the PIAA championships Jan. 24 and 25 in Hershey's Giant Center. They will be joined by 15 other qualifying teams from the WPIAL competition, including Class AA champion Highlands and Class A winner Chartiers-Houston.

Competing in its first WPIAL competitive spirit event, Highlands coach Marissa Sorg was very pleased with her team's output.

“I'm so excited, especially because we've never been to anything like this before,” Sorg said. “We wanted to just qualify for Hershey. We never even imagined we could win, so we're just super excited.”

Also winning the small-squad classification, Pine-Richland is among six teams — Butler, Shaler, Chartiers-Houston, Franklin Regional and Hampton — that automatically advance to the PIAA championships based on team size.

From the medium-squad group, North Allegheny, Thomas Jefferson, Bethel Park, Canon-McMillan, Baldwin and Central Valley advanced while Norwin, Neshannock and Elizabeth Forward join Highlands as qualifiers from the large-squad division.

While Hitson and the Rams were pleased with their efforts, their next goal is to claim the PIAA title at the end of the month, a mark that eluded them last season.

“Last year, we came in as runners-up, so this year we want to come in first,” she said.

Highlands' expectations are comparatively a bit tempered due to its lack of competitive experience, but it still heads to Hershey with a goal in place.

“I think that the goal they want is to make it to finals at states,” Hitson said. “... Our goal this year — since it's our first year — is just the finals.”

Alex Oltmanns is a freelance writer.

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